Minnesota defeated Illinois 77-67 at Williams Arena. With the win the Gophers are 1-0 in conference play* and 13 and 3 on the season. Jordan Murphy recorded his 16th straight double double.
Minnesota jumped out to a comfortable lead thanks to a combination of good offense and horrendous Illinois shooting. The Gophers looked engaged on the defensive end for the first time in at least a month. Part of that was due to a return to a mostly healthy starting five. In what is certainly a broken record at this point, Minnesota’s starting five is very good and can play with any team in the country.
Minnesota won every one of the four factor categories. The Gophers finished with an effective field goal percentage of 50%, and a total offensive rating of 1.06 points per possession. Neither one of those numbers are particularly impressive. What is impressive is that the Gophers attempted lots of free throws. Minnesota had four free throws for every ten field goal attempts.
Two problems on offense. The Gophers missed a lot of shots from the field, and a lot of shots from the free throw line. It’s difficult to evaluate those shots because most of them were good looks, and some nights the shots won’t fall. The free throws were more problematic because the only advantage to getting to the line is converting, and the Gophers would have won by close to 20 points if they had made free throws at a regular rate.
They should have tried for more dunks.
Nate Mason and Jordan Murphy led all Minnesota scorers with 17 points each. Mason looked comfortable in his first game back from a lower body injury. He added 6 assists (that should have been closer to 10 if his teammates could have made open shots) and 4 rebounds, but had 4 turnovers.
Murphy is now just one game away from tying the record for consecutive double doubles. He’s a fun player to watch.
Amir Coffey has 16 points and carried the Gophers during the beginning of the game. Besides the previous alley oop, Coffey also had another strong two handed slam later in the game. It was a strong start to the new year, and the Gophers will need Coffey to play with this kind of energy the rest of the season.
Reggie Lynch had seven blocks, and somehow it seemed like a ho hum night. Minnesota will miss the defensive player of the year next year.
The bench played for 15% of the game and had just 4 points. Isaiah Washington had 2 points that came from the free throw and Bakary Konate had a dunk late in the game. At this point, Minnesota has to accept that any bench scoring is a luxury item like a diamond bracelet or a bottle of Pappy’s. If it arrives, treat it with appropriate mirth, but do not get hung up on things that will likely not happen.
Minnesota was just 5-20 from behind the three point line. That’s bad. There is a silver lining though. Minnesota had almost 20 open three pointers due to excellent ball movement. Notably, the Gophers were happy to use ball reversals and quick inside out passing to free up shooters. I cannot say whether the end result was an aberration or what we should expect going forward, but the passing was a step forward.
Minnesota next plays Indiana at the Barn on Saturday.
*For some reason, the college basketball world has decided that they are 2-1 because they count games against Nebraska and Rutgers.